Make Healthful Habits Stick by Sophie Knapp, MScN, CN
The start of the year brings a refreshing energy. Another worldwide trip around the sun; it’s like we all reset at once. The feelings of possibility and motivation are palpable!
This collective sensation can propel you into a new health kick with ease, but how do you know if you’re setting useful goals, how do you keep the progress going, and how do you ensure that you’re holistically caring for yourself while staying focused on more targeted goals?
As a holistic nutrition counselor, I help my my clients to not just get started on new habits, but stick with and build them. Using these strategies, they’re able to incorporate new bahavior patterns into their lives and turn them into their new way of living. It makes taking care of your health approachable and sustainable for far longer than the month of January.
This is a hefty topic, so I’ve broken it down into parts. This post covers answers the first question I posed: how do you know that the goals you’re setting are relevant? In other words, how do you know that any specific goal is most worth your time?
GET CLEAR ON YOUR INTENTIONS & GOALS; MANIFEST THEM:
First off, you need to listen to what your inner voice, intuition, mind, body, and soul are telling you. What do you need more of? What do you need less of? How do you visualize your life being different? Which new habits can you visualize yourself physically doing in the future? Once you know what you want, you’re able to set up concrete steps to build more of that into your world.
Turn down the external volume, and find a quiet place that’s free of distractions. Get comfy. Now turn down the internal volume by meditating or breathing. Follow along with an app or YouTube video, or simply watch your thoughts or your breath. Take as much time as you need here, but try to stay a little longer than you’d like.
Here are a few apps to use if you prefer to have a guided practice:
With newfound clearheadedness, some of you may immediately, intuitively know what your intention is for 2024. For others, like myself, it’ll probably take additional prompting and exploration for your true desires to reveal themselves.
Carve out a chunk of time, and take your time writing out thoughtful responses to these journal prompts:
What were your big wins this past year?
What wer your small wins this past year?
What were your biggest challenges this year?
For each challenge, write one or more lessons, tools, or gifts you received because of it.
What strengths did I discover in my myself this year?
Who were the most integral people in your life this year?
How did each of these people support, teach, heal, and heal you? How did they help you grow?
What were your most beneficial and enjoyable physical and mental health practices/habits this past year?
Which health practices were the most challenging or even detrimental and why?
What values are important to me this year?
What new opportunities became available this year?
With your health last year in mind, what is/are your health-related goal(s) this year? Write them out using the SMART format. (explained a few lines down)
Visualize your future self. How will your life change if you make progress toward and achieve this goal?
How will you feel differently if you work toward and accomplish this goal compared to how you feel now?
Now that you have clarity, a clear vision of what you desire, and the beginnings of the goals you'll set to get there, you're ready to define those goals in highly effective language.
The way you phrase your goals is key! It’s been well-established that setting goals using the SMART method makes you more likely to follow through on the actions necessary to acquire what you desire.1
A vague goal like “I want more abundance in 2024” sounds like a worthwhile pursuit, but you’re unlikely to actually create and connect with the feeling of abundance this year unless you take that intention and break it down into a SMART goal.
SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
You need to get more specific. What does having more abundance actually look like? Does it mean buying less? Expressing gratitude more? Decluttering your dwelling? Be sure to define this for yourself in clear language. You need to also specify the actions you'll take and how frequently to work toward the goal. If you decide more abundance means expressing gratitude more, you could decide to begin and end each day writing down 5 things you're grateful for in a journal.
Your goal needs to be measurable. Though this is trickier with sensing a feeling like abundance than say tracking the distance you’re able to run, it’s possible. You could sift through daily journals looking for the frequency at which you use key words associated with abundance vs those associated with scarcity or by rating the intensity of your feelings of gratitude on a numeric scale daily and seeing a trend over time.
Goals need to be achievable, but researchers have also found that it still needs to challenge you.1 Finding this balance can take some trial and error. Do your best, and be open-minded to learning from your failures. If your find your first goal was too easily accomplished, try reaching further outside of your comfort zone on the next go. The same goes if you find your goal was too far of a stretch in the first place.
Your goals should also be relevant to the life you're trying to build. The goal of feeling a greater sense of abundance would be more relevant to someone who suffers from stress associated with a scarcity mindset, who needs to save money, or who wants to feel more grounded and satisfied with the life they currently have.
Last, your goal needs to be time-bound. For this example, since there isn’t a tangible outcome, it’s more relevant to schedule times where you’ll check in on progress. However, with something like a running goal, it helps to phrase it like, “I will be able to run 10 miles, 12 months from now.” Even with that specific of a goal, you’ll likely need to break it down even further, scheduling out increments of time when you’ll check in on progress and re-evaluate as needed.
Great news for those of you who love to dive headfirst into a new goal: according to a study assessing over 1.4 million users on MyFitnessPal, your behavior during the first 7 days of working toward a goal largely determines if you’ll eventually accomplish it.2 Strategies like following through on what you planned to do, and logging your progress as intended may make you more likely to cross the finish line instead of throwing in the towel.2
COMPLETE & COMPLEX EXAMPLE SMART GOAL I SET FOR MYSELF THIS YEAR:
A bit of background for those who don't know me: I’m a certified holistic nutritionist with my own private practice called Knapp Nutrition. I work one on one with clients to help them heal in a way that aligns with their values using evidence-based eating and lifestyle recommendations that are rooted in science.
As a micro business owner, how I spend my time greatly impacts my productivity and capacity to serve my clients. My goal is to improve my time management skills in 2024. I desire to be more focused during working hours, heal my clients more effectively and efficiently, and utilize free time in a more directed way.
Though this feels vulnerable to share, one big way I’ve identified that I regularly waste time is by getting distracted by my phone. I can spend way too much time mindlessly scrolling. It robs me of productive work time, and it ultimately cuts into my free time.
I wrote out my goal using the SMART format for y’all to see the process and have a complex example to use for your goal setting. Here’s what it looked like:
Improve time management skills and be more focused during my independent working hours.
I’ll write out a list of tasks that need to be completed each week. On a daily basis, I’ll also create a visual, time-blocked schedule on a piece of scrap paper using colorful pens. These weekly and daily lists will live on my desk, and the colorful pens will make them more fun to create and more engaging to look at.
Part of what will be scheduled in daily are breaks every 90 minutes. I’ll take 10 minute breaks every hour and a half, filling them with movement like walking, mobility drills, yoga flows, lunges, etc. Additionally, to make scrolling less accessible, I’ll work with my phone out of arm’s reach with the alert sounds on in case I need to communicate with a client.
Once a week, I’ll reflect back on my written schedules and assess how well I stuck to them by answering these questions: did I accomplish the weekly tasks? did I accomplish them on time? how well did I adhere to my time-blocked schedule? Which tasks still need to be accomplished and moved to next week's schedule?
Additionally, I’ll check the screentime function on my iPhone to track my scrolling over time. I want to be under 20 minutes/day total on the apps that suck the most of my attention. The time I’ll take to do this will be built into my weekly schedule.
Yes, this is attainable for me, and here is my thought process behind why:
Mindless scrolling is one of my biggest time and energy robbers, but it likely serves a purpose in my life. That purpose is likely boosting my dopamine levels.
There are more healthful ways to increase dopamine, and one way that I genuinely enjoy is by moving my body and connecting with my breath. I’ll be doing that regularly during my scheduled breaks. This goal involves some simple habit changes, so although it’ll take time to learn those new habits, I’m capable of it!
This goal is relevant to me for many reasons, which I’ll briefly list here:
…screentime is bad for my eyeballs and their ability to function optimally longterm.
…sitting makes it hard for me to focus, and it’s not conducive to feeling the best I can in my body. By adding frequent movement and mindfulness breaks, I’ll improve my focus and the way my body feels at the end of the work day.
…scrolling is detrimental to mental health. Part of this is because I waste working hours scrolling, but the work still needs to be accomplished. I end up worker later into the day, cutting into my free time that’s usually spent doing things that get me into a flow state and recharge my batteries.
Not managing my time well…
…limits the number of people I can effectively help.
…prevents me from accomplishing the tasks required to run and grow my business.
…makes it more challenging to bring in adequate revenue to live comfortably and save for the future.
…damages my self-esteem because I don’t achieve as much as I’d like to due to wasted time.
I will check in on this progress 1x/quarter when I file quarterly excise taxes for my business by sifting through notes from my weekly check-ins, looking for trends. I’ll analyze my success rate with clients at the end of the year, and I’ll check in with how my revenue changed from 2023 to 2024.
You now have the framework for what an effective goal sounds like and how to realize one that suits you as an individual.
If you’re feeling unsure of what your goals ought to be but know you’re ready for change, consider reaching out to a health coach, therapist, or holistic nutritionist in your area. If you already know what your goals are, but you’re struggling to make progress toward accomplishing them, the aforementioned professionals can help you there too.
I'm currently accepting new clients! You can reach me at email@example.com Everyone gets a free 20-minute consult to decide if we're a good fit before committing.
Check back next month for Part 2 of this series where I describe actionable steps to sustain your motivation and turn your intentions into fully formed habits. Your desires will be manifesting in no time!
- Epton T, Currie S, Armitage CJ. Unique effects of setting goals on behavior change: Systematic review and meta-analysis. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2017;85(12):1182-1198.
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In this second part of making Healthful Habits Stick, I’m going to talk you through some of the “make it stick” strategies you can start using right now to get re-inspired and get back on track toward the changes you desire in your life.